Industrial hemp considered

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Restrictions on growing industrial hemp in the United States were lifted with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill this past December. Legalizing hemp for farming in the U.S. also helped many to understand the true value of hemp as a trade commodity.

Legalization, however, is just the first step in building America’s hemp industry, according to a recent news release from the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (VFBF).

“Industrial hemp is a rural development opportunity that allows small farms to get into growing hemp. It may also provide a way to engage young people with returning to the family farm,” noted Kimley Blanks, agriculture and development director for Halifax County.
Once one of Colonial America’s few significant cash crops industrial hemp was used for ropes, fishing nets and canvas sails.

Hemp production came to a halt in the United States in the 1950s, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled hemp a controlled substance because it contained not quite 0.3 percent and less of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or more commonly referred to as THC — the hemp plant’s main psychoactive component.

The new Farm Bill removes industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will now be responsible for its supervision.

For now, according to a VFBF news release, cannabidiol or CBD, the non-psychoactive compound that is added to food and beverages, health products and pet snacks is still subject to FDA regulations.

Today, the U.S. is in large part dependent on imports. We look to Canada and China to meet our demand for both hemp products and for hemp as an ingredient for further processing.

According to the Congressional Research Service, industry estimates report U.S. hemp product sales at around $700 million annually.

The VFBF reports interest in the crop is widespread and VFBF members are fielding questions about its cultivation and marketing from farmers. Tony Banks, a VFBF commodity marketing specialist, remains cautiously optimistic about the evolving business.

“A big challenge for the hemp industry is to determine the proper regulatory requirements from the state and federal government. Industrial hemp has potential to become a new industry, but until some regulatory structure is in place for plant varieties, production systems and end-use products, it will be the Wild West for the next several years,” he said.

Erin Williams of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, (VDACS) who served as a panelist at the summit, said there is a significant interest in growing industrial hemp, especially in Southside Virginia.

“VDACS has issued 140 industrial hemp grower registrations and 30 industrial hemp processor registrations since July, and more than 250 grower applications are pending renewal or approval,” Williams said.

The Charlotte County Cooperative Extension held a meeting Monday, March 25, at 6 p.m. for those interested in producing industrial hemp. Guest speakers included Margaret Collins of Collins Farms, Williams with VDACS and Dr. John Fike with Virginia Tech.

Industrial hemp history, laws, regulations, markets as well as a local perspective on industrial hemp were discussed,

“The Hemp conference hosted by the Charlotte County Cooperative Extension and held at the Appomattox Community Center on March 25 was well attended by an interested group of residents that wanted more information on hemp,” Extension Agent Joann Jones said, “Overall, I think it was a big success.”

“About 25 people showed up for the conference,” Jones said. “There was plenty of information for them to absorb. Margaret Collins of Collins Farm was there; she grew a crop [of hemp] last year. She also talked about some of the challenges an industrial hemp producer might encounter.”

Jones said, “It was a good thing Erin Williams from VDACS was there. She talked about the legislative side of growing hemp. Currently, the legislation that is in effect makes it illegal to possess plants containing 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or higher.” “However,” Jones added, “there is also talk of raising the allowable limit of THC in industrial hemp from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent THC. That would make a huge difference in the amount of worry farmers have over their crop’s THC levels.”